by Christy Shepard and Jan Frazier of Planning Plus, LLC
Before the recent days of remote and hybrid work models, work was conducted in very static and finite methods and places. The paradigm shifts from employer-driven to employee-driven decision making and work life integration has afforded today’s worker choices and options for work engagement, participation, and lifestyle.
Employers are competing for employees at record levels and remote and hybrid work models are very attractive to multiple generations of people. No longer do we need to be “in the room” where it happens, as we have access to people and information like never before. Technological tools have broken barriers and stigmas, allowing workplaces to build healthy and dynamic organizational cultures that support the goals of the business and people that work in them. But with information and decision making moving through organizations at the speed of light, how do we ensure we are still making “the room” for the necessary thought and decision making to effectively problem solve?
‘The Room Where it Happens’, sung by Hamilton’s Aaron Burr in the popular Broadway musical, expresses many of the downsides workers have faced in the great transition from work from ‘working from home.’ Recently we have been involved in several significant projects involving multiple people where the work was done via emailing, texting, phone calls, Zoom, etc. Rarely were all players “in the room” at the same time. This led to delays in creating consensus solutions and became quite inefficient. Email may be efficient, Zoom is a step above, but where is the “room” for creative thinking, brainstorming, back-and-forth discussions? We may get the work done, but is it the best work we could have done?
Well before the Internet, Zoom, and other technological tools we have today, in 1989 the textbook Organizational Behavior by Robert Kreitner and Angelo Kinicki was published (Richard D. Irwin, Inc.). Based on their research, a Contingency Model for Selecting Communication Media was created by Richard L. Daft and Robert H. Lengel. In this model, they compared the appropriate media to use for communication information based on the richness of the medium and the complexity of the problem or situation. Fast forward to 2023 and we recognize that their principles still hold true.
Richness of the medium refers to how a message may be received and the level of interaction that may follow. We know that emails, written reports, and other forms of mechanical communication are generally impersonal, may or may not be read, and may or may not elicit any observable responses. Communication that involves more face-to-face communication, whether in person or via Zoom, allows the speaker to observe nonverbal communication as well as receive immediate feedback.
Over the years, the original model by Daft and Lengel has been updated but its essence has not changed. The figure below illustrates the information richness of different information channels.
As you think about communicating information with your team or throughout your organization, identify how complex the situation is and match it to a more appropriate forum for discussion.
In this post-COVID work world, employees have become quite comfortable working from home, and we have seen articles where in some cases productivity has not been affected. But productivity alone should not be the deciding factor. We continue to encourage our clients to bring folks into the workspace at least weekly, to allow for critical interpersonal communication and decision making to happen when everyone is in the room.